Taking Risks or Taking Care

I was only seven years old, but I vividly remember the penetrating cold of the hard steel truck bed on my bare knees; with my heart pounding in my throat, and tears streaming down my cheeks, I begged God to get me off that army truck before it drove away with its load of children.

It happened in Holland, not during World War II when truckloads of people were transported to forced labour or death camps in Germany, but in early December of 1945, six months after Canadian armies had liberated our city. So why was I so afraid?

Very simple. Every day as I went out to play or walk to school, my mom reminded me, “Wees voorzichtig!” “Be careful,” often adding other advice such as, “Stay away from soldiers. Don’t run and fall. Don’t throw stones. Don’t play with fire. Stay away from deep water. Don’t talk to strangers. Never get in a vehicle even if your friends say it’s okay.”

My mom lived in fear all my life. She had a nervous breakdown after my baby brother died of a congenital heart defect and didn’t get over it for many years. She didn’t want anything to happen to me, or my dad. Yet my dad and my uncles were on a list of men to be deported to a forced labour camp and frequently fled to hide in the swamps and lake areas near our city, leaving my mom worrying and wondering when, or if, my dad would return.

But after liberation life and the rules had suddenly changed. My dad and mom themselves lifted me onto the back of the truck and told me, “It’s okay, you’re going to a Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) party. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will be there. You’ll get candy. They’ll bring you back here afterwards.” All their assurances went unheard, shouted down by a lifetime of dire warnings.

Today we continue to live in a culture in which mothers tell their kids to be careful and we sign off our emails with, “Take care.” And yet, throughout history, nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by people who “took care” but rather by courageous folks who “took risks.”My wife and I decided to take big risks when we became Bible translators. We did not “take care” but were ready to risk our family’s health. The rheumatoid arthritis specialist warned us our two year-old daughter would probably be in a wheelchair by the time she was a teenager if we didn’t maintain a stress free lifestyle. Yet we moved into a high stress life style, starting with three months in jungle survival training in southern Mexico when she was three, followed by two decades of pioneer lifestyle in the Canela village of Brazil.

First Popjes Prayer Card 1966

First Popjes Prayer Card 1966

We did not “take care” but risked our lives and limbs as we traveled over thick jungle in small single engine airplanes, forded streams, and wrestled our way through mud and deep sand with vehicles not designed for that type of travel. We did not “take care” but risked disease, parasites, and stings and bites from jungle critters. We suffered them all, yes, including tuberculosis, and bites from snakes and rabid dogs. We did not “take care” but risked hardship and penury as we embarked on a nearly five decade-long ministry without a guaranteed salary.

We took risks because we believed what Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” Mark 8:35 (NIV).

First Year in Canela Village

First Year in Canela Village

Jesus wasn’t lying, we experienced the truth of His statement. God took care of our finances and continues to provide each month. God used modern medication to heal all the diseases we caught. God kept us safe, though not necessarily comfortable, in our travels. God healed Valorie of rheumatoid arthritis in her late teens. And yes, we left the Canela with a partial Bible translated into their language, a basic education system, and a very young church.

I will not pass on my mother’s advice to you.  Instead I’ll sign off with

Don’t take care, take risks.

PS: What risks have you taken lately to advance to Kingdom of God?